Safe food handling after a power outage
Monday, Jan 6th 2014

A recent severe snowstorm knocked out power of at least 67,000 individuals in Indiana on Jan. 6. The two major utility companies in the area, Indianapolis Power and Light and Duke Energy, reported 30,000 and 38,000 outages, respectively, as of Monday morning. 

According to the local ABC news affiliate, citizens in the area are dealing with the power outage and bitter cold in different ways, including waiting it out until utilities are restored or leaving their homes for hotels. However, these conditions can create several dangers once power has been restored, especially when it comes to food handling and preparation.

Food safety tips
Earlier this year, Minnesota residents also lost power during a severe storm, and the state's Department of Agriculture and Department of Health released tips for food handling after the outage.

A main issue with loss of power is refrigeration. Food Poisoning Bulletin stated that perishable items that are without refrigeration for more than four hours can create a significant risk of foodborne illness if consumed. Therefore, individuals should keep the door to their refrigerator closed to seal in as much cold air as possible and maintain the internal temperature.

The source also stated that a full freezer can keep food at a safe temperature for about 48 hours, or 24 hours if it is half full. Dry ice can be used to keep a freezer cold and food items safe.

Especially for commercial organizations that lose power, it is important to monitor the temperature of these systems to ensure that levels do not drop to unsafe zones for an extended period of time. Temperature monitoring systems can play an important role, as refrigerated food that remains above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours can breed bacteria that leads to illnesses. For this reason, if the temperature in the freezer or refrigerator rises above this level according to the temperature monitoring sensor, items should be discarded to prevent the risk of illness.

The Minnesota Department of Health also stated that temperature monitoring is important for consumers as well. During an outage, the temperature of refrigeration units should be monitored to prevent bacteria.

However, if a temperature monitoring system is not in place, the Minnesota Department of Health stated that each package of food should be checked individually. If the item still has ice crystals or is internally below 40 degrees, it can be cooked or refrozen. Otherwise, items should be thrown away.

The department also stated that if a food establishment is unsure about the condition of its food items, owners should contact the local food inspector for assistance and recommendations about disposal.